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2015 NFL Power Rankings — Week 12: Cardinals, Broncos, Packers move up

Quarterback Carson Palmer has the Cardinals up to No. 3 in the rankings. (Rick Scuteri/Associated Press)

1. New England Patriots (10-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 1

There weren’t that many style points Monday night. The offense was out of sync for much of the game. WRs Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson suffered injuries. The Patriots lost a potential TD to an inadvertent whistle. But they found a way to win, anyway. One particularly encouraging sign was RB James White, replacing the injured Dion Lewis, scoring two TDs.

2. Carolina Panthers (10-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 2

They are a legitimate threat to go 16-0, but they do have four of their six remaining regular season games on the road, beginning on Thanksgiving at Dallas. The other road games are at New Orleans, at the Meadowlands against the Giants and at Atlanta. The remaining home games are against the Falcons and Buccaneers. It’s not easy. The Cowboys have Tony Romo back and the Buccaneers are playing well. But it’s not impossible either, especially with the Falcons struggling.

3. Arizona Cardinals (8-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5

QB Carson Palmer beat his original NFL team, the Bengals, on Sunday night, and the Cardinals are rolling now with back-to-back uplifting victories over Seattle and Cincinnati. Arizona, which has four straight wins in all, now faces consecutive road games at San Francisco and St. Louis.

4. Denver Broncos (8-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 7

Brock Osweiler vs. Tom Brady? It doesn’t quite have the cachet of Peyton Manning vs. Brady on a late-November Sunday night in Denver, does it? But, really, there was no other way for the Broncos to go after Osweiler played well Sunday in Chicago. Now, though, it’s an inexperienced QB facing a Bill Belichick-coached defense. Things could look entirely different a week from now if Osweiler stumbles and Manning can get healthier.

[Brock Osweiler to make a second straight start]

[Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler? Manning has to get and stay healthy for it even to be a question]

5. Green Bay Packers (7-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 8

The victory Sunday at Minnesota reestablished the Packers as the team to beat in the NFC North. RB Eddie Lacy reemerged in the offense with his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season, and QB Aaron Rodgers, even while completing fewer than half his passes, did his part. Now the Packers must keep things on course by winning a game they should win Thanksgiving night against the Bears at Lambeau Field.

6. Cincinnati Bengals (8-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3

The costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Domata Peko for simulating the Cardinals’ snap count late in Sunday night’s loss at Arizona was disputed by the Bengals. But the league, according to a source, believes the right call was made. Whatever the truth may be, the Bengals can take some solace in the fact that they played far better than they’d performed six days earlier in their listless defeat to the Texans.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 6

The Steelers picked up ground on the Bengals during their bye and now get back Ben Roethlisberger as their starter at QB. They face a difficult post-bye game this weekend at Seattle.

8. Minnesota Vikings (7-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 4

Everything was set up Sunday for Minnesota to take control of the NFC North, with two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions, but the Vikings gave a miserable performance and lost at home to the Packers. There’s no time to sulk, however, with games against the Falcons, Seahawks and Cardinals the next three weeks.

9. Kansas City Chiefs (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 14

Few NFL teams looked more down and out than the Chiefs appeared during their five-game losing streak. And just as few are playing as well as the Chiefs are now, with their four straight wins. They suddenly are well positioned to make the playoffs and the schedule is favorable.

10. Houston Texans (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 15

The Texans are set to go back to Brian Hoyer as their starter at QB. But they can thank T.J. Yates for getting them back into the thick of the AFC South race by beating the Bengals in relief of Hoyer and then winning Sunday’s start against the Jets.

11. New York Giants (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 11

The NFC East is there for the taking as the Giants return from their bye, having had extra time to recover from their near-miss loss to the Patriots that probably should have been an unlikely victory. They’ll need Jason Pierre-Paul to be a pass-rushing difference-maker on defense for the rest of the season.

12. Indianapolis Colts (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 16

There’s certainly no need for Andrew Luck to be rushed back into the lineup with the Colts 3-0 with Matt Hasselbeck starting at QB.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 19

Jameis Winston suddenly appears capable of overtaking Marcus Mariota in their rookie-QB duel. And the Buccaneers are in the playoff mix, now only a game out of the second NFC wild-card spot. Whatever happens from here, it has been a season on which Winston and the Buccaneers can build.

14. Seattle Seahawks (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 20

RB Marshawn Lynch’s regular season might be over because of his abdominal injury, reportedly a possible sports hernia. But it might not matter that much for the Seahawks since they seem to have found a productive runner in Thomas Rawls.

15. Buffalo Bills (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 9

QB Tyrod Taylor clearly was hurting by the end of the loss Monday night at New England. Coach Rex Ryan acknowledged afterward he was concerned about the condition of Taylor’s right shoulder and considered a switch to backup EJ Manuel. Taylor’s playing status going forward will be a key consideration for Buffalo. The Bills’ offense simply isn’t very good without him.

16. New York Jets (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 10

It’s the Jets and Falcons in a race to see whose once-promising season can totally unravel the fastest.

17. Atlanta Falcons (6-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 12

The Falcons probably weren’t as good as their 5-0 start suggested. But a team with the caliber of players on offense that the Falcons have shouldn’t be losing to the Saints, Buccaneers, 49ers and Andrew Luck-less Colts as Atlanta has done during its 1-4 downward spiral.

18. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 25

Being a contender in the AFC South isn’t like being a contender in the real-world NFL. But the Jaguars undoubtedly will take it.

19. Chicago Bears (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 13

The Bears were a failed two-point conversion late from taking the Broncos and Brock Osweiler to OT. The narrative for both teams would have changed considerably if the Bears had found a way to pull that game out. Instead, it goes down as another could-have-been for Chicago. The Bears’ last three losses have come by a total of eight points.

20. Dallas Cowboys (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 27

The pattern is becoming familiar: When Romo plays, the Cowboys win. When he didn’t play, they lost. The Cowboys seem convinced that, with Romo back in the lineup, they still can make a late-season run at the playoffs. But their margin for error is small and they still have the Panthers and Packers left on the schedule.

21. Miami Dolphins (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 17

So much for the temporary boost that the Dolphins received after firing Joe Philbin and promoting Dan Campbell to be their interim coach. Their 2-0 start under Campbell has been followed by three losses in four games, and they are close to being as irrelevant as they were under Philbin.

22. Washington Redskins (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 18

The Redskins simply aren’t good enough to compete with the upper-tier teams like the Panthers and Patriots. Redskins players can complain, if they like, about the illegal-hit penalty that nullified CB Chris Culliver’s TD on Sunday at Carolina. But the call was correct, according to the rule. And it certainly didn’t cost the Redskins the game in a lopsided result. They get back to an opponent more on their level when they face the Giants this weekend at FedEx Field.

[NFL regards illegal-hit call on Redskins’ Chris Culliver as correct]

23. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 21

Some were offended before the season when it was suggested that Chip Kelly was on a coaching hot seat. But Kelly made this season all about him when he seized control of the roster during the offseason and then overhauled it. And now that things are falling apart, the blame is his. That is far from suggesting that the Eagles actually would fire him. But there has been plenty of speculation about him leaving.

24. Detroit Lions (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 28

Is there anyone else whom owner Martha Firestone Ford can fire? This new approach seems to be working so far.

25. New Orleans Saints (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 26

The Saints return from their bye week minus Rob Ryan as their defensive coordinator. But there sure seemed to be more wrong with that defense than the ouster of Ryan can remedy.

26. Baltimore Ravens (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 30

QB Joe Flacco and RB Justin Forsett now have joined pass rusher Terrell Suggs and WR Steve Smith Sr. in suffering season-ending injuries. But one thing needs to be made clear: The injuries did not cause the Ravens’ woes. This team never played well the entire season. And any attempt now to cite injuries as a major reason for the collapse is completely disingenuous.

[Joe Flacco’s knee injury not only ends his 2015 season but could extend Ravens’ miseries into 2016]

27. St. Louis Rams (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 22

The mishandling of QB Case Keenum’s concussion is a far bigger issue than any football-related failures by the Rams on Sunday in Baltimore. But there were plenty of those as well, and Coach Jeff Fisher lamented the team’s lack of offense after the game as he called it one of the tougher-to-accept defeats of his Rams tenure.

[Keenum lesson: NFL must hold teams accountable for concussion protocol violations]

28. Oakland Raiders (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 23

Was it really only a few weeks ago that the Raiders resembled a playoff contender? Yes, it was. But that was losses to the Steelers, Vikings and Lions ago. The first two were pardonable. The third one, not so much.

29. San Francisco 49ers (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 24

No one promised things would go wonderfully every week with Blaine Gabbert at QB. Actually, Gabbert was productive but the 49ers were basically non-competitive against the Seahawks.

30. Tennessee Titans (2-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 29

The Titans are right back in the mix for one of the top picks in the NFL draft, not exactly what they had in mind when they selected Mariota last spring.

31. San Diego Chargers (2-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 31

Given the way the Chargers, Rams and Raiders are playing, does moving any of those teams to Los Angeles actually qualify as pro football returning to the city?

32. Cleveland Browns (2-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 32

Will Johnny Manziel ever regain the faith of this franchise after it benched him for Monday night’s game against the Ravens?